Games Review: Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China (PS4, 2015)

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a 2.5D stealth/action side-scroller downloadable title that introduces a new female assassin and a reshuffling of the familiar Assassin’s Creed sneaky-stabby gameplay mechanics and serves as the first chapter in a new Assassin’s Creed series. But is it worthy of the Assassin’s Creed mantle?

Assassin’s Creed Chroncles: China (lets just call it ACC:C) drops you into the shoes of assassin Shao-Jun, a swift, no-nonsense woman, trained by Ezio Auditore himself. Shao-Jun is only the second playable female assassin in the series history – the other being Aveline from the PSP title Assasin’s Creed Liberation. Despite being in a 2.5D sidescrolling adventure, Shao-Jun’s abilities don’t differ wildly from those of her 3D action adventure cousins.

Among her arsenal Shao-Jun is packing a hidden blade in her boot (seriously neat), a sword, throwing knives and distractions like fireworks, whistles and noise darts.You can use these items to skirt around various guards and patrols, or confront them head on if you wish. Once you engage in combat, your controls are quite simple – square to deliver a light attack with your sword, triangle for a heavy you. Pointing the control stick at the enemy and hitting circle will allow you to vault over your enemy to attack from behind.

Each guard has a cone of vision clearly displayed on screen. Enter that cone and it will turn yellow while they search for you, if it turns red you’ve been properly spotted. Depending on where you are, if you get sprung they may call for reinforcements to buff their numbers a bit. If they engage in conversation with one another then their cones disappear completely, allowing you to move about without detection as long as you don’t make any noise. You can also dive from hiding place to hiding place if they’re close enough to reach without being seen. For the most part I found the guards to be fairly docile on my Normal difficulty playthrough – they were quite a bit more thorough on the harder difficulties and even a yellow alert meant certain death.

The levels themselves I found to be designed almost exclusively for stealth runs rather than the guns blazing option. Obviously, guns blazing isn’t the way one generally plays an Assassin’s Creed title but here it feels a little like that option is off the table entirely, despite there frequently being multiple paths you can use to traverse a given level. Indeed, there’s an XP system in the game that rewards you mightily for completing each section without detection, just to make sure you know which way the devs want you to play it. In fairness, it does make sense in terms of the character you’re playing as and the situations she is often in – stealth would absolutely be the survival play – but for a series known for creating wild situations and then letting you handle them your way, it feels a touch narrow.

The levels are also quite easy to navigate whenever you don’t have to work around the guards – empty sections breeze by in a flash of jumps and ledge-grabs and I always came out the other side of these sections feeling a bit underwhelmed by them. They’re definitely more interesting when you’ve got guards to deal with but without them it feels, particularly in the early-game, like a bit a cakewalk. Makes me miss the old challenge rooms from Assassin’s Creed II.

The visuals are a design area I quite enjoyed. ACC:C looks as if it were a painting of the era (the game is set in 1526), the textures recalling brush strokes and the blood you spill so much spattered red ink. It’s lovely and it creates a certain flow that allows the game to transition from area to another more easily. It works partly because the environments here are quite different to those you usually come across in mainline Assassin’s Creed titles. There are no bustling cities, no hordes of pedestrians – indeed the first part of the game takes place in caves and caverns where its just Shao-Jun and many guards who’ve had the bad luck to get between her and the way out. This is, in many ways, the most serene Assassin’s Creed game I’ve ever played.

Something else I found really interesting about the way ACC:C is designed is the way it forcibly reminded me of playing Prince of Persia on our family’s old Atari ST in the late 80’s. The look, the feel, the character animations and the level design all feel heavily influenced by Jordan Mechner’s 1989 escapist masterpiece.

The controls took a little bit of getting used to for me, not because they were overly difficult to get to grips with – they’re not, they’re actually one of the game’s strongest suits – but because I automatically dropped into regular Assassin’s Creed mode and started trying to play it like one of the 3D titles. While the game attempts to recreate this control scheme, in parts, in others it makes very smart decisions about what your button presses actually accomplish. For instance, simply pushing the control stick left or right when in a hiding place and pressing X will launch you quickly and quietly onto the next hiding spot if one is close by. Your shoulder buttons get a bit of a workout, being used to select target sizes, trajectories and holding them for the right moment to strike. R2 makes you run, L2 makes you crouch. Your D-Pad is where all of your supplies and goodies are kept and you can select them by hitting any one of the corresponding buttons.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China was originally intended to be a part of the Assassin’s Creed Unity Season Pass before that offer was scrapped following Unity’s disastrous launch. While it would have been an extremely pleasant bonus as a part of that package, it somehow feels stronger as a stand-alone title, doing its own thing in contrast to the main series. There are two more titles to come in this new spin-off franchise, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia, all of which I hope will have their own distinct flavour and play very differently from one another.

Review Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Feels like Prince of Persia; lovely visuals; Shao-Jun is hella rad
Lowlights: A few flat sections; Stealth approach enforced quite aggressively
Developer: Climax Studios
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: 22 April, 2015
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4


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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.